Portfolio magazine did a feature on Nigo, the ultra-rich creator of A Bathing Ape clothing brand. I blog for Portfolio.com once in awhile, and I was surprised to find that they would cover Nigo. The magazine tends to be a little “bougie” but apparently someone there thought this was important enough to give it a lot of space in the magazine.
Nigo, whose real name is Tomoaki Nagao, is at a crossroads in his career. He can either be a sellout and make Bape a much more international brand by opening more stores and pursuing other lucrative projects (Bape cologne? Bape sports drink? Bape condoms maybe?) or he could make the line more exclusive and go back to his Japanese underground roots.
The secret to Nigo’s success is that he fights to keep Bape fresh “as in raw-fish-in-a-refrigerated-case fresh. The clothes and footwear are intended to be seen as perishable; rare; manufactured that morning, perhaps; and presented for you in a sushi-bar-style display.”
Photo by Becky Yee for Pig Magazine
Urban streetwear is a very fickle market. One day you’re hot and then the other day you’re not. Nigo knows this; that’s why he keeps a tight choke hold on his line’s growth. He never makes more than 300 editions of anything. In Bape’s 14-year career there has never been a sale, and Bape has never run a magazine advertisement. Still Bape moves 98% of its products. One of the reasons why they keep sneakers and other apparel behind glass is because it makes it look like a store has a lot of merchandise when really they sell stuff so fast that the stores don’t have enough merchandise to display. Bape is still a private company. Nigo takes advantage of the Japanese low-interest loans to finance his clothing line.
What I thought was very interesting about the article was how Nigo talks about himself. The 36-year-old does not get a lot of respect in the Japanese fashion world because some people feel that he has already sold out with catering to the American hip hop elite like Kanye and Pharrell Williams, one of his partners for the Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream lines, and that streetwear does not count as a reputable fashion label. Nigo talks a lot about death and how when he dies people will see how great he was because of all the possessions that he leaves behind.
“When I die and they make an auction catalog of all my possessions,” he says, “then they will understand. Then they will see how important I am.”Now it’s no secret that Nigo is a collector. He has several multi-million dollar homes filled with Star Wars collectibles, cars, sneakers, and basically anything else imaginable. He admits in the article that he is a kid and that he really cares more about himself than anything else. Hey, whatever works for you.
I’m thinking that he is going to have to go international. The Japanese kids are already getting over Bape. The only thing left to do is saturate the American kids and use his hip hop connections to ride the cool train for as long as he can.
Photo from BBC blog of Nigo in his store in Shibuya
The Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream store just opened in New York. Read the NYT article about its opening.
Here’s a video from when BBC3 did a series called “Japanorama.” One of the episodes was about Nigo. I love Jonathan Ross. He’s never afraid to push the envelope.